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WOMEN’S MONTH: An interview with Isuzu South Africa’s Mandlakazi Sigcawu

Published Aug 16, 2021


JOHANNESBURG - Mandlakazi Sigcawu is a mother of two and she began her career in broadcasting. She later bootstrapped her own PR and Events management agency, and then joined the public and private sector. Her previous roles include managing the communication and being the spokesperson of the former Speaker of Parliament.

Tobacco multinational British American Tobacco headhunted Sigcawu and by the time she left the organisation she was the Head of Communication and Transformation, and managed projects across East and Southern African markets. Aside from her Corporate and Public Affairs role, she is also the first woman appointed to the Isuzu-owned KANU Commercial Body Construction Board, and is also a board member of the Nelson Mandela Bay Business Chamber.

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IOL MOTORING: Is there a message you would like to share with young South African females looking to break into the male-dominated automotive sector?

Sigcawu: To all the young South African females, be bold and agile. The boldness will afford you the opportunity to look beyond your fears and approach each opportunity with confidence. There is no linear approach to career growth or career success in any industry. Do not be afraid to seek for guidance when new opportunities present themselves. Being agile is important because you can be futuristic in how you manage your career and preparing for your next. Do not be resistant to change but welcome it for all the new possibilities it may present for your own personal growth and development. Don’t be afraid to do things differently and challenge boundaries that have been set, irrespective of whatever space you are in. Be innovative in your approach and bring your flair.

I’d like to appeal to female executives and leaders – let us be accessible to young upcoming women. It could be a matter of availing yourself for a phone call or a session with a young upcoming professional to impart some of your own knowledge and experiences. We also need to support initiatives that work with the girl child. Many young girls, be it in high school or in rural areas do not have access to information that can help them shape their careers. In our respective roles as decision makers let’s be deliberate in the decisions we make, by ensuring they are not exclusive in reach and impact.

Remain honest and true to self. Do not be afraid to say, ‘I do not know’ or ‘please help me’. We all know qualifications alone are not what sets one apart from the rest of the pack. It is your appetite to learn, grow and the passion to make a meaningful difference that will set you up for success.

IOL MOTORING: You lead a completely female team at Isuzu. What is your management style to help them grow into future leaders?

Sigcawu: For me it was quite a pleasant surprise having an all-female team. I see them all as leaders in their own right. Each and every one of them play a very important role in the organisation and they remain committed in being part of the growth of Isuzu.

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My style of leadership has been largely influenced by some of the great leaders I’ve personally been exposed to and being sensitive to the fact that we are all more than just employees. I have one-on-one catch-up sessions with each team member. It’s an opportunity for me as a leader to also identify any matters that could be impacting my team member’s performance outside of the work environment. These sessions also afford the individual team members to share with me what their expectations are of me as their direct line manager. I find this style of leadership creates a conducive environment for success as individuals and as a team.

IOL MOTORING: Why do you encourage mentors outside of the business and industry?

Sigcawu: Those relationships are so important because having mentors that have challenged me and ensured I stay on track in achieving my personal goals is what has put me in good stead. I have different mentors for different things in my life and I have invested in those relationships. I’ve encouraged my team to identify individuals who they believe align with their values and future goals. It’s important to find mentors who will afford you their time when you need it and impart insights that will help shape you to be a better version of yourself.

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IOL MOTORING: Can you tell us about your vision for Isuzu?

Sigcawu: My vision for Isuzu is to be part of the team that grows Isuzu’s market share not only in South Africa but also the African continent. To build this reputable corporate brand’s visibility to be the first and preferred brand our consumers think of when looking for a truck or a bakkie.

IOL MOTORING: Your career has been an interesting one. Can you tell us a little about it?

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Sigcawu: My journey began with a female leader seeing potential in me. I was a young single mother applying for a reception position at Naspers. I was interviewed by none other than Esmaré Weideman, the former chief executive officer of that company. As the editor-in-chief of its flagship weekly news and entertainment magazines Huisgenoot, YOU and DRUM at the time, she offered to appoint me as a copy coordinator and committed to personally mentor me. I learnt from that experience never to turn down an opportunity to grow or venture into the unknown.

I recall how when I initially wanted to leave broadcast journalism and move into a corporate environment, no one wanted to hire me because I was not equipped with the necessary experience. I made a brave decision to start my own PR agency to gain that experience because I was passionate about the strategic role of communication and PR. This decision afforded me an opportunity to build very strong relationships with executives who became my mentors at a later stage. This gave me some solid foundation and learnings I have subsequently applied in my roles both in the public and corporate sector.

It was in local government as the Head of Media Relations at the City of Ekurhuleni where I learned the importance of developing tailor-made communication solutions and stakeholder management. I was able to implement projects and platforms that brought the metro and its leaders closer to its corporate residents and communities.

I must have made quiet an impression because I was head hunted by the then Speaker of Parliament to join her office as the Communications Manager and Spokesperson. It was the most interesting time in our country’s politics and the lessons I learnt in this role put me in good stead for my next role in the tobacco industry, a highly regulated sector.

Joining a multinational organisation like British American Tobacco was truly an amazing experience for me in further enhancing my strategy development capabilities and working outside of our boarders.

IOL MOTORING: Your job at Isuzu extends beyond corporate comms. You are also a non-executive at KANU Commercial Body Construction and you’ve recently been appointed at the Nelson Mandela Bay Business Chamber. Can you tell us more about these roles?

Sigcawu: It’s an honour to be part of the Nelson Mandela Bay Business chamber, it’s one of the most active chambers in the country and we recently held our first board meeting. Here I contribute to the roads and infrastructure task team, but I’m also active in the water crisis communication team in Gqeberha. This contribution is valuable in terms of assisting the Metro in communicating effectively, not only to local residents but also regionally and nationally.

My appointment at KANU Commercial Body Construction is an exciting opportunity for me on a personal level. I’m so proud to be the first female on the Board. This is a very male dominated industry, and I’m looking forward to working alongside other board members and contributing to the growth of the KANU business.